Make more quality time for weekend recreation by having the peace of mind in knowing your plumbing drains are functioning properly. There’s no need to wait time after time for slow draining sinks to empty. Here are long-term maintenance steps that will ensure your drains will run freely, and that won’t require expensive and dangerous drain cleaning products or that ubiquitous plumber’s helper, the plunger. You’ll have more golf time, guaranteed.
What is put down a sink drain matters most of all. Use discretion and moderation in what you dump into your home’s plumbing system. The number one problem arises from cooking grease, and it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s hot or cold grease. Always dispose of grease in the garbage with a tin can. Other top drain cloggers are hair and soap scum, and coffee grounds. Hair can be caught with a drain screen or strainer, and coffee grounds are a welcome addition to garden mulch or compost.
Of course, what you feed the garbage disposer makes a lot of difference, too. Many municipalities are already at or near full capacity for their sewer systems, so again, use the garbage can, instead. Small sections of orange or lemon rind ground up in the disposer will freshen it up.
A slow draining bathroom sink may have a hair clog in the tailpiece, which is just under the sink, where the drain stopper linkage operates. Remove the stopper, and you’ll likely find an attached plug of hair. If the stopper is locked into the drain, unscrew the lifter arm retaining nut, remove the lifter arm, then remove the stopper. A toothbrush inserted into the sink drain will clean out any remaining hair. A slow draining bathtub may simply have a hair clog in the strainer.
Other methods to keep drains running freely and fresh smelling include dropping a handful of baking soda into the drain, followed by a small amount of hot water, just enough to fill the drain P-trap. Or, pour a cup of vinegar or lemon scented ammonia into the drain, let it stand for a half-hour, then flush it with hot water. Never mix ammonia with bleach, a dangerous chemical reaction will occur.
Now, methods of freeing clogs escalate. Before the P-trap is removed, you may try a solution of a half cup salt, a half cup baking soda, and a half cup of vinegar, with the vinegar poured last into the drain, followed by hot water. Or, if that doesn’t work, a plumber’s helper plunger may be used to dislodge clogs.
These are maintenance steps, not repairs. If you still have drain problems, you’ll need to take appropriate repair measures. I would like to think that all drains are installed correctly in the first place, but my experience in remodeling, especially with bathroom sinks, tells me not to assume anything. I find all too often, in removing old sinks and related plumbing, that many drain P-trap arms are actually sloped backwards, back towards the p-trap, pooling excess water and debris in the P-trap and wall trap arm, the most vulnerable spot for drainage clogs to occur.
You won’t find drainage problems in other home plumbing pipes behind the walls, for the plain reason that plumbing systems properly installed according to current building codes will work. It is a simple fact that pipes must slope with a drop of about a quarter inch per foot of run to allow water flow to carry debris along with it, in a self-cleaning mode.
The same rule applies to drain wall trap arms to keep them running freely. That gooseneck curve of pipe under the sink, the P-trap, is designed to trap and hold water to provide a barrier from unpleasant sewer gasses. So, when added water from the sink rises in the P-trap, it will drain out of a properly sloped wall trap arm to the drain plumbing in the wall. Again, proper slope is a quarter inch drop per foot of run. A handy torpedo level will read a slight amount of bubble beyond the level line.
To get the proper slope and to inspect the P-trap, you’ll have to remove the P-trap. Position a small pail under the trap to collect water. A rag will be handy to wipe your hands. Latex gloves may be an option. A towel on the cabinet floor will absorb excess water, and cushion tools and body. This is awkward, difficult work which may require you to get into pretzel shaped body positions under the sink plumbing, so try to relax and get comfortable inside the cabinet. Using channel lock pliers or a pipe wrench, remove the two coupling nuts and washers which attach the P-trap to the sink tailpiece and wall trap arm. Once removed, you’ll be able to determine if the tailpiece is too long, preventing the P-trap from being installed high enough to allow proper trap arm slope. Cut the tailpiece as necessary. Clean the P-trap and trap arm, or replace with new ABS or PVC plastic fittings that won’t rust and are easier to fasten together. There’s no need to overtighten the new coupling nuts, but be sure to check for leaks and then snug tight any loose fitting.
If the trap assembly does not seem to be the cause of the clog, try using a small retractable drain snake in the wall pipe outlet after removing the trap assembly. Some older homes with cast iron drains used fittings that have very sharp bends that could cause clogs.
This all can get a bit messy, dealing with the residue left in the pipes. Don’t worry about the gunk being safe, it won’t harm you, as bacteria is present and breaking down the dirt and waste. However, be sure to wash hands after the repair.
If all other remedies mentioned here fail, call a plumber. You may have a bird’s nest in a large roof vent, causing a drain line vacuum, or tree roots clogging the main drain line leading out to the street sewer. In an older home, if the bathtub still won’t drain, you may need to have a plumber replace the existing and obsolete drum trap under the floor.